Esalen, year nine

Day 25, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to Esalen Institute, 15 miles

Christmas morning, this feels like. Heading in to my ninth writers retreat at Esalen. Traveling the dramatic landscape of Big Sur, where California Route 1 becomes a narrow highway etched into a rocky mountainous coastline, cliffs rising of hundreds of feet above the ocean below. The terrains are challenging, rigorous climb, breathtaking views, exhillerating descents.

Why, then, am I feeling this hesitation as I wake? My reluctance continues, which has dogged my tour from the start. Why? Is it the stresses I bring from home, restaurant staffing and sales so challenged this year. Or the longing and loneliness for my beloved, who is experiencing challenges of her own right now. How I wish I was by her side, or that she were here.

My morning ritual of touring gives me purpose: wake, pack my sleeping bag, pad, clothing, drop my tent, pack my gear. Make breakfast, simple oats, dates, almonds, raising, and coffee. I chat with the other cyclist, who will climb Nacimiento-Fergusson Road today, then ride into the fire roads at the crest. To lose himself from society for awhile. I understand.

I load my bike, head up the steep hill, a two mile climb to Big Sur proper. Slow steady pedaling wakes me up. I’ve added the bells back to my bike, then ring as I climb. Bell ringing, reminding me to wake up. I’ve also added the bright prayer flags, flapping strung high from a salvaged tent pole mast. Suddenly my bike seems to take on a spiritual purpose, to carry me to my soul, closer to my self.

I stop at Big Sur Bakery, buy some coffee but pass on the now $8 croissant. Wow, not any bigger than a standard pastry. Big Sur is also catering to silicon valley prices. I ride the rest of the climb, descend now past Nepenthe to stop at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. I’ve stopped here every time I’ve been through, and recently begun to appreciate the literary legacy of the place. I thank Jennifer for stretching my cultural horizons here. Again, my longing peaks for her company.

Back on the bike, descending then climbing, rolling hills now between Big Sur and Esalen. Cars pass with plenty of room, many who are heading to the same destination. I’m feeling lighter, the closer I approach the retreat. Miles are easy again, my legs feel stronger. My heart beats strong and open. Who will I meet this weekend, what new connections and friendships will I make?

I reach Julian Pfeiffer Burns and descend rapidly past parked cars and hikers. No time to stop for pictures of the famous waterfall. I’m climbing out of the bend, then crossing bridges and creeks, one, two, three, until I reach the fourth, Hot Springs Creek. A half mile climb to the entrance Esalen.

My ninth year at Esalen, to attend the Sun Magazine Writers Retreat. I’m ready to be challenged, received, opened, renewed. I descend the steep drive to the gate, now feeling almost giddy. First stop: the baths.

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